September 27, 2015
After months of anticipation and preparation, after all the talk of logistics and security and traffic, Pope Francis finally came to Philadelphia, uniting the city for one weekend around a message of love.
On Sunday evening, he bid goodbye.
“As I prepare to leave, I do so with a heart full of gratitude and hope,” he told a group of 500 volunteers and benefactors assembled in a hangar at Atlantic Aviation at Philadelphia International Airport. Joining them were dignitaries including Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Tom Wolf and Mayor Michael Nutter.
The Holy Father singled out two events as being particularly meaningful to him during the trip to America: the canonization of Junipero Serra and his visit to the 9/11 Memorial in New York.
“I was also very moved to stand with my brothers and sisters of other religions at Ground Zero, that place which speaks so powerfully of the mystery of evil – yet we know with certainty that evil never has the last word,” he said.
An awed hush fell over the room as he mingled with the crowd one last time, broken only occasionally by a shout of “Te amo, Papa!”
One of the people he blessed was 38-year-old Eustace Mita Jr., who five years ago was diagnosed with brain cancer. His father, Eustace Mita Sr., is chairman of development for the World Meeting of Families.
“You can feel energy from him if you are far away or close up, and his smile is enthusiastic,” said Mita Jr. “It’s beautiful…I believe God can go through him.”
The movers and shakers behind the World Meeting of Families began their efforts three years ago. They were raising money right until the last moment – in fact, Mita Sr. noted, it was only on Saturday that they officially reached their fundraising goal of $45 million, $5 million of that from the state and the rest from private and corporate donors.
But was that work ever worth it.
“There’s a brotherhood and a sisterhood here that I’ve never seen before,” said Mita Sr. With the world’s eyes on Philadelphia, he said, its citizens didn’t just say that they were part of the City of Brotherly Love: “We lived the city of Brotherly Love.”
Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney agreed that the city presented itself magnificently to the world.
“Philadelphians realize now that we can be friendly…and we’re good at it!” he said.
Kenney said the pope’s comments on immigration made him reflect on his own Irish background, remembering how his people faced discrimination when they were immigrants in America.
“We need to break that cycle of anger toward people who are different and foreign…(if) we can get that attitude across to every person in the city and state and country, that we’re our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, then we’ll be better off,” he said.
Teresa Martinez of Miami, who as part of the media team for the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops has followed the pope from Washington, D.C. to New York to Philly, also appreciated the visit's special meaning for Latin Americans.
“Just hearing him deliver his homily in Spanish, my first language, brought tears to my eyes,” she said.
Volunteer Mark Seamans of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 56, said he was most inspired when the pope acknowledged not just the beauty of raising a family, but the difficulties as well.
“To keep the family going is worth it. It is more than worth it to fight through the troubles, the pain, to persevere,” said Seamans, who has been married for 23 years.
The pope’s messages on the family also rang true for Dr. Rosalie Mirenda, president of Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania.
“I loved the terms: ‘What about you? What will you do? What can you do to strengthen, to advance family?’ That for me was pivotal and very central,” she said.
Yet perhaps the most notable aspect of Pope Francis’ many words on the topic of family this week was that he never explicitly defined what a family is, despite entering a political climate where same-sex marriage is a hot-button issue.
His final words to Philadelphia on the subject of family were this: “Each of us showed the beauty of family life in all its richness and diversity.”